MARQUETTE - The scattering of Northern Michigan University hockey fans who braved the winter storm to reach the Berry Events Center on Friday night were struck with a moment of deja vu in the closing minute of the third period.
Senior captain Scott Macauly, who celebrated his 22nd birthday Friday, erased those memories real quick, however.
The University of Alaska picked up a shorthanded, game-tying goal with 56 seconds to play in the third, only to see Macaulay net the short-handed, game-winner 52 seconds in overtime to give the Wildcats a 4-3 CCHA victory and a chance for a series sweep tonight at 7:35 p.m. in Game 2 of the series in Marquette.
"My stomach dropped when they tied it," NMU junior forward Jake Johnson said. "It was like, 'Oh, it's happening again.'
"We all believed we could still win. That was a huge lift. He's a great captain and provided a big-time play for us. It's something we needed."
Northern (5-6-2 overall, 2-5-2 in CCHA) appeared to have a one-goal win in the books Friday when Nanooks (6-5-2 overall, 4-4-1 in CCHA) freshman center Tyler Morley caught NMU sophomore Ryan Daugherty in the head after the whistle, drawing the rarely called penalty of "indirect contact to the head-roughing" - a two minute minor - with 1:52 remaining in regulation.
Instead of milking the clock or adding an insurance goal, though, Alaska senior wing Andy Taranto tied the game at 3-3 with a shorthanded goal at 19:04 of the third period.
Daugherty then took a took a cross checking penalty in a scrum along the boards in the Nanooks' zone with five seconds on the clock, negating what was left of the Wildcat power play and putting his team down a man after 10 seconds of 4-on-4 to start OT.
"We've seen that way too many times this year," Macaulay said. "It's a feeling we don't want to happen. We have to learn how to close out a game. That can't happen going forward if we want to be a successful team."
NMU 4, Alaska 3 (OT)
Alaska 2 0 1 0 - 3
NMU 0 3 0 1 - 4
AK - Adam Henderson (Chad Gehon, Nik Yaremchuk), 7:19
AK - Jarret Granberg (Trevor Campbell), 15:43
NMU - Jake Johnson (Robert Lindores), 3:08
NMU - Kory Kaunisto (Scott Macaulay, Johnson), 6:50
NMU - Wade Epp (CJ Ludwig, Reed Seckel), 12:37
AK - Andy Taranto (Campbell, Granberg), 19:04
NMU - Macaulay (unassisted), :52
Goalie saves - Jared Coreau (NMU), 23; Steve Thompson (AK), 14.
Power plays - NMU 0-4; AK 0-4.
Penalties - NMU 4-8; AK 4-8.
Macauly scored the game-winner on a break away after taking a pass from junior defenseman CJ Ludwig. Macaulay zipped past a Nanooks defenseman pinching inside and used his momentum to get to the opposing net.
"Coming up the ice, the goalie was a bit off angle so I saw the other side open," Macaulay said. "I got it over there and lucky enough it went in."
Three times now in the month of November the Wildcats have watched late leads slip away.
The first time was on Nov. 2 with with six tenths of a second on the clock against Michigan in Marquette. The second time was Nov. 10 in Oxford, Ohio, when Miami tied Game 2 of the series with 2:13 remaining.
The third late-game breakdown was Friday, however, this contest ended in an NMU overtime win rather than a shootout loss.
"When you're struggling ... you feel like there is a cloud over your head," NMU head coach Walt Kyle said. "Tonight we get down 2-0 and you feel like you can't make it go away.
"The back end of the third then, we're doing a good job, we have the game pretty much (won). We have a power play late and then we back in on them. They made a great shot.
"Now it feels like the air is coming out of the balloon again and Daugherty takes a real dumb penalty, one of those things you feel like the cloud is still over your head. To their credit, the guys hung in there. Scotty made a big-time play."
The Wildcats netted three goals in the second period to rally from a 2-0 deficit and all three scores came from unlikely sources.
Johnson scored his first goal of the season and second of his career with an assist from freshman forward Robert Lindores 3:08 into the second to cut the Nanook lead in half.
Junior forward Kory Kaunisto, with assists from Macaulay and Johnson, tied the game at 6:50, tipping a rocket by Macaulay just below the blue line.
Sophomore Reed Seckel, back from an injury after missing the Ohio State series, and Ludwig then set up junior defenseman Wade Epp for another blue line blast 12:37 into the second to tie the game at 3-3.
"We needed that game," Kyle said. "We had a number of guys play up tonight and play the way we wanted them to. We're going to have to be better (Saturday). I liked the direction we came tonight. I liked the bounce we had."
Heading into Friday night, Johnson, Kaunisto and Epp had combined for two goals this season and 10 for their career.
Johnson, who has only appeared in four games this season and 38 in his collegiate career, only had a single goal and assist prior to Friday and was happy to match that while sporting his red Movember mustache in support of men's health issues, such as prostate cancer.
"It must be the mustache," Johnson said with a laugh. "I know I'm capable of scoring. I know it hasn't happened and hopefully tonight is a jump start to the rest of my year and a half here. It's not my main role on this team. It's to provide energy and help the team win. Tonight I was able to capitalize with a goal and an assist."
NOTES: Thompson finished with 14 saves for Alaska and NMU junior goaltender Jared Coreau made 23 saves. ... Adam Henderson scored 7:19 into the game for Alaska and Jarret Granberg put NMU down 2-0 in the first period. ... Two Wildcats were suspended for Friday's game. Junior Erik Higby was suspended only Friday - he'll be back Saturday - by the CCHA after receiving a game disqualification for contact to the head in Game 2 against Ohio State. Senior forward Matt Thurber was suspended by Kyle for a violation of a team rule. ... NMU played a pair of defensemen up at forward Friday and neither was named Kyle Follmer. Sophomore Jake Baker center the Wildcats third line with freshmen Cohen Adair and Darren Nowick, who was returning from injury. Freshman Ryan Trenz played win on the second line with Ryan Aynsley and Kaunisto.